George Mallory

This is George Mallory as a young man. Presumably about the time he came out of “public” school and prior to the outbreak of The Great War. George was born in 1886 to a British clergyman, and at the age of 13 entered a boarding school, Winchester College. (It is said of the British elite of Victorian times that “they kept their dogs at home and sent their sons off to kennels.”) It was at Winchester that George was introduced to climbing – his ultimate passion. After graduating from Cambridge he became a school teacher, and just 6 days before the outbreak of The Great War was married to Ruth Turner.

Much of what I have gleaned about George Mallory came from a book written by Wade Davis, the book entitled, “Into the Silence.” It is indeed about Mallory, but a good portion of the book deals with The Great War. And what intrigued me as well was the emphasis on British society,
especially the sense of entitlement that came with being born of wealth and privilege.

If you were a “public” (read “private”) school boy, you had a one in five chance of perishing during the war. If you fought in the trenches, you had a 50% chance of survival. If you were a colonial (Canadian, Aussie, Kiwi, etc.) forget it. If you were a general, miles behind the front lines, you would be bivouacked in a chateau, and might go for a morning ride on your well-groomed horse.

Such was the life of Field Marshall Douglas Haig, a military visionary who disdained the use of steel helmets, the airplane as an instrument of war, and played down the importance of machine guns, which the Germans used ruthlessly to mow down the Allied boys charging out of their trenches. Eight years after the war Haig still extolled the “value of the horse,” going on to say that “aeroplanes and tanks are only accessories to the men and the horse …” This from a man under whose charge more than two and a half million soldiers of the British Empire were killed, were maimed, or went missing, and whose son, long after the war explained away Haig senior, saying that “the suffering of his men caused him great anguish … that he felt it his duty to refrain from visiting the casualty clearing stations because these visits made him physically ill.” Haig below, doing what he did best.

Enough of that. Back to Mallory and his three attempts to scale Mount Everest (named in 1865, for Sir George Everest, previously the Surveyor General of India).

As a schoolmaster, Mallory was exempt from enlisting in the British armed forces. But with each passing month, and with increasing reports of his friends falling in battle, Mallory was given permission to join in the war effort. By early 1916 he was in France serving in the trenches as a second lieutenant (public school fast-track?) and through the course of the war he had periods of front-line duties interrupted by extended leaves back home. In any event, he survived the conflict relatively unscathed, and by January, 1919, he was back teaching. Very quickly unhappy as a schoolmaster, Mallory in early 1921 received a life-line; an invitation to join the Everest Committee.

Mallory above, in early climbing days, doing what he did best.

1921 then, marked the first attempt for scaling Everest, at 29,035 feet, the world’s tallest mountain (think about that height the next time you are traveling on a jet at 35,000 feet).

If nothing else, the seeming interminability and real horrors of The Great War toughened the resolve of the team that would try to conquer Everest. None of this was trivial. There was the passage to India by boat; train travel to Darjeeling, and from there by pony, mule and by foot to Tibet. As tough as the journey might be for the British climbers (all born of money and with that, social standing), the real heavy lifting was done by porters, Sherpas, or “coolies” as they might be referred to by their masters. On the second attempt in 1922 to reach the summit of Everest, seven Tibetans died in an avalanche. The compensation: 13 British pounds for each family in “quarterly installments (for how long I do not know – but I am guessing, not for long).

The first attempt on Everest ended unsuccessfully with Mallory climbing to 22,000 feet.

OK. Why, might you ask, has a photo of the actor Peter Finch insinuated itself into this blog about Mallory. That is Finch in a scene from the 1978 movie “Network,” for which he won the Oscar as best actor, and
for which he will be remembered for his rant, “I’m made as Hell and I’m not going to take this anymore!” Among Peter’s other accomplishments; five BAFTA awards (the British version of the Academy Awards); three marriages, and affairs with Vivien Leigh and Shirley Bassey.

But it is onto Peter’s “father” George where the emphasis shifts. George Finch was a vital member of Mallory’s first two attempts to climb to the summit of Everest. The elder Finch was born in Australia, and while accepted into the Mallory’s inner circle of climbers, there was a great deal of opposition to his inclusion; mainly because he was an Aussie. The Brit elitists didn’t fancy a colonial joining the “team,” never mind that Finch senior was an expert mountaineer, or that he had remarkable scientific underpinnings (as an example, it was Finch who insisted that the summit of Everest could only be reached through the use of supplemental oxygen). George was married to Alice (“Betty”) Fisher, and in 1916 went off to war. And here is where it gets more interesting. Betty gave birth to Peter some 10 months after George’s departure. It seems that Captain “Bertie” Campbell, on leave in England from duties in France, slipped into the gap, so to speak, and impregnated Betty. George tracked “Bertie” down in France, and beat him to a pulp. George decided that Peter was to be raised as a Finch and there was an attempt to reconcile with Betty, but it seems that Betty had difficulty keeping her knickers on in the presence of others. The Finches divorced, and Peter was raised by George’s mother. George, no saint he, had taken up with Gladys May while still married to Betty, impregnated Gladys, and just as quickly, cast her aside. He eventually married Agnes “Bubbles” Johnson.

George Finch, during the ascent of 1922, firmly stuck by his belief that to conquer Everest required supplemental oxygen. Mallory had gone off before Finch, without oxygen, and reached an altitude of 26,800 feet. Finch, climbing with Geoffrey Bruce, and with oxygen, climbed to 27,300 feet, higher than any man had ever climbed. But to preserve Bruce’s health, they had to retreat.

Finch was regarded as the “finest ice and snow climber in Britain” yet he was not invited to participate in the 1924 Everest expedition. The reasons were not clear. Jealousy? His Aussie heritage? Never mind. He would eventually count his blessings. George lived to age 82, passing on in 1970.
That’s George (on the right) and Geoffrey Bruce in the following, after their record climb.

Again, Mallory was to lead the third expedition. In preparation, more than 3,000 pounds of food, tents and equipment were sent to the base of the Himalayas, including sixty tins of quail in fois gras and 48 bottles of champagne. All moved by porters. One of the members of the expedition, Noel Odell prepared himself in Darjeeling with games of squash, followed by tea, dinner and dancing late into the night. Entitled? You think?

Climbing Mount Everest was never going to be a straight shot. Camps were to be set up at various stages along the way and would be supplied with tents, food and oxygen at certain altitudes, with teams charged with carrying supplies in a sort of relay before retreating to lower levels. For example, two climbers (Brits, of course) together with 15 porters would carry supplies to Camp V at 25,500 feet, before returning to Camp IV at 23,000 feet. Camp VI was at 26,500 feet and VII at 27,300 feet. Camp VII would be the final launching pad for reaching the summit (still almost 2,000 feet higher).
Mallory’s partner for the final ascent was Sandy Irvine, at only twenty-one, athletic, brilliant and fit for Everest. Mallory was not yet 40 himself, and certainly still fit for the mountain. A year before, Mallory, when asked the question why he would want to ascend Everest, responded, “Because it’s there.” And here it is.

In the photo following, Mallory and Irvine are shown at Camp IV with oxygen apparatus in place. It was the last photo taken of the pair. It is believed that Mallory and Irvine departed Camp VI, and some in the expedition were convinced that they had in fact climbed to the summit of Everest. The photo was taken on June 6, 1924. The body of Mallory was recovered in 1999 – 75 years later. The body of Irvine has never been found. There is no evidence to suggest that Mallory and Irvine reached the summit.

Mallory had broken a leg and suffered broken ribs and a head injury, indicative of a fall. His remains were relatively well preserved, as seen in the following photo…

It would be 6 more expeditions over almost 30 years, before the successful conquest of Everest by the Kiwi, Edmund Hillary and the Nepalese Sherpa, Tenzing Norgay. Since that climb in 1953 there have more than 5,000 successful ascents of the mountain.

Nancy Wake

It is sometimes interesting how thoughts may progress. I was reading an article about Alexandra Champalimaud, the head of Champalimaud Design. The article explained how the Portuguese-born Champalimaud had taken a decrepit Connecticut summer camp and turned it into a (pretty funky) residence. As an aside, Ms. Champalimaud dons a wet suit each morning and swims across her lake. But more importantly for me, the article mentioned that Ms. Champalimaud had worked on designs for such high-end hotels as the Bel-Air in Los Angeles, the Chateau Frontenac in Quebec City, and the Stafford in London, England.

That is Ms. Champalimaud at her “camp” in the foregoing. Obviously a woman of some style. But it was the reference to the Stafford Hotel that kept me on a path. The Stafford is home to “The American Bar,” pictured here.

The American Bar was a haven for servicemen during the Second World War. It was also a haunt for Nancy Wake, both during the War and in her later years, when Nancy was a resident at the Stafford. Apparently Nancy would start early at the Bar, enjoying during the course of the day, a half dozen gins and tonic. OK if you pace yourself, although for me, I would simply pass on the tonic.

So here we are – Champalimaud to the Stafford, on to the American Bar, and then to Nancy Wake. Ms. Wake, as it turns out, was the most highly decorated servicewoman of the Second World War. She was awarded the George Medal (Britain’s second highest civilian honour; the Medal of Freedom from the United States; the French Legion d’Honneur and three Croix de Guerres.

Here is Ms. Wake enjoying a little refreshment. She lived at the Stafford from 2001 to 2003, before moving on to a retirement home, where she passed away in 2011 at the age of 98.

Ms. Wake was born in Wellington, New Zealand, and moved to Australia early on. Her father, whom she adored, “was very good-looking … but was a bastard.” He sold the family home, ditched the family, left them destitute, causing Nancy to run away at age of 16. She landed in London and moved on to continental Europe where she found work as a journalist. There she witnessed the rise of Nazism in the early 1930s. In 1939 Nancy married a wealthy French industrialist – barely 6 months before the Nazis invaded France.

Nancy was quick off the mark. She used her social status and wealth to ferry downed Royal Air Force pilots from France to Spain and on to Britain. That landed her on the Gestapo’s most wanted list where she was known as “The White Mouse.” She was captured, tortured but mistakenly released, and she made her way to London. Her husband was not as fortunate as he was captured and killed by the Nazis, but never gave up Nancy’s identity.

That’s Nancy above in a war-time photo.

She didn’t hesitate to return to France from London and became a resistance leader; blowing up Nazi supply depots, sabotaging factories and train tracks, and at one point killing a Nazi soldier with her bare hands. There is much more to her story and it is worth reading her autobiography, “The White Mouse.”

Dinner Again

Fisherman’s Stew

Looks inviting, does it not?

This recipe was inspired by the Fisherman’s Stew served at the Ajax Cafe in Port Hadlock, WA. Port Hadlock is just 15 minutes north of Port Ludlow on the Olympic Peninsula. And the resort at Port Ludlow is a very nice place to stay. The Ajax is a friendly, funky, noisy family restaurant with an assortment of hats on the walls (you are invited to choose one for the evening) and, to add to the wonderful chaos of your visit, a guy might be playing the piano and singing through the din.

I have modified the recipe, and it turns out to be a more than reasonable version of the Ajax recipe.

Using a Dutch oven, briefly toast 2 teaspoons of fennel seeds, stirring to prevent burning, then remove when darkened, and set aside. Heat 1/4 cup olive oil in the Dutch oven, adding 2 or 3 cloves of garlic (minced) and 2 or 3 tablespoons of minced shallots. Why 2 or 3? I like to err on the high side.

Stir in a 28 ounce can of diced tomatoes, 1/2 cup of dry white wine, and a cup of fish stock or clam juice. Simmer over medium/low heat for 30 minutes, having added a teaspoon of lemon zest, salt, pepper, a pinch of saffron, if you have it, and two teaspoons each of savoury, thyme, marjoram, tarragon and rosemary. Then use a wand to blend the mixture. This base may be prepared and refrigerated a day or two ahead of your dinner party.

The seafood comes next (just prior to serving). With the soup mixture over medium heat, add a dozen clams and a dozen cleaned and de-bearded mussels. Give them 5 minutes. Then add 1/2 pound large scallops (cut in two); up to a pound of halibut (cut bite size); up to a pound of salmon (cut bite size); and a half pound of prawns (Argentine prawns work well, tails removed). The seafood will cook quickly – probably fewer than 10 minutes.

Just prior to removing from the heat, add a half cup of red wine, and a half cup of heavy cream. All of this should easily satisfy you and three of your guests.

The Ajax is quite unassuming, and you can drive your car right up the front entrance!

You will want some nice bread to sop up the goodness. Nothing wrong with a baguette or garlic bread, but I have included a recipe for a loaf of artisan bread. All it takes is some time, and it turns out perfect each time.

Artisan Bread

This is a “no knead” bread featured on the website and again, is something I have slightly modified. You need to plan ahead for this one – about 18 to 24 hours ahead – perhaps about the same time you put your stew base together.

In a large bowl, mix together 3 cups of all-purpose flour, a tablespoon of salt, a tablespoon of herbes de Provence, a teaspoon of active dry yeast, then 1 and 2/3 cups of warm water. Mix to the point where it all gets quite shaggy looking (remember those shag carpets from the 70s? That kind of shaggy). Seal the bowl with plastic wrap and let it sit for the better part of a day.

In the early afternoon before your dinner, unfold the shaggy mass (which will be quite bubbly, yet will still look unappetizing) onto a well-floured surface. Form it into a ball, add flour to the top, and cover with a non-terry cloth towel for 2 hours. Place a Dutch oven in your bigger oven and heat to 450 degrees F. Once you are at 450, take your dough, again forming a ball; and with seam side down drop it into the Dutch oven. Bake with the lid on for 30 minutes. In the meantime, pour a teaspoon of sea salt into a small bowl containing 2 tablespoons of olive oil, and mix together. When your 30 minutes are up, pull the Dutch oven from the bigger oven, remove the lid, and use a brush to spread the oil/salt mixture over the surface of the bread. Put the loaf back into the bigger oven, without the lid, and bake for 15 minutes more. It should come out golden brown and have a hollow sound when tapped. Place your loaf of artisan bread on a cooling rack before slicing. It will look something like this.

Will you need 2 Dutch ovens? No. You can make your bread earlier in the day, well ahead of the time you put your stew together.

What else to do? Dessert? No. I will propose a salad, and leave dessert to another blog entry.

Salade Lyonnaise

Lyon may well be the food capitol of France. Parisians may disagree, but there is something about Lyonnais restaurants and their food that sets Lyon apart. Casual? Friendlier? Yes to both. Certainly the “bouchons” – traditional Lyonnaise restaurants – are more likely to offer simpler fare. And very likely the owner will come around to your table at some point during your dinner. This recipe for salade Lyonnaise is very close to what I was served at a bouchon in Vieux Lyon several years ago. The base of the salade is bitter greens – usually frisee. Maybe not to everyone’s taste, so you can use a mix of frisee and romaine, two cups of each, torn. I like to take the romaine off the spine, because I want the greens to wilt under the dressing. In a skillet, heat 1/2 cup olive oil, then add 1/2 pound bacon (cut into good size chunks from a slab rather than from rashers). Cook the bacon until crisp, then remove from the skillet. The oil/bacon fat mixture stays in, as the Lyonnaise are not shy about fat. Chop a shallot and sauté until soft, then add 1/2 cup of red wine vinegar and 2 tablespoons of Dijon mustard. Keep warm on low heat.

Plate your greens together with your bacon and start your poached eggs. The idea is that each guest will have a soft poached egg that once broken, will seep through the salad. I have a real problem with doing a good poached egg, and some guests don’t like their eggs runny, so I cheat a bit. I use a non-stick muffin top pan (not an exciting photo but that is the pan below), spray each cavity with some Pam, break the eggs and gently place in each cavity. I bake these for about 10 minutes in a 350 degree F oven, et voila! The result is 4 eggs sunny side up, and all done at one time. Before you pour your warm vinaigrette over the plated greens and bacon, top each plate with some finely chopped onion and garlic, salt and pepper. Once the vinaigrette has been poured, add the egg.

Cervelle de Canut

Cervelle de canut literally translates as “silk weaver’s brains” and could be considered an insult or a tribute to those who worked in the silk industry of Lyon many years ago. Not sure why. Because it is soft and mushy? Or were they known to be good cooks? Regardless, cervelle de canut is a delicious dip – one that I had at the end of a dinner at a bouchon in Lyon. The recipe calls for fromage blanc, but you can substitute cottage cheese, or in this case, ricotta. You will need the following:

  • 2 cups ricotta cheese (I mash the ricotta to strain any liquid)
  • 1 garlic clove
  • 1 shallot
  • 1 tablespoon chives chopped
  • 1 tablespoon parsley chopped
  • 1 green onion chopped
  • 1 tablespoon tarragon leaves
  • 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon walnut oil (if you don’t have it – use a bit more olive oil) 

Put all the ingredients except the ricotta in a small food processor and mix thoroughly. Then add the processed ingredients to the ricotta and mix well. It will be soft and mushy. Add sea salt and pepper to taste. I used a pepper medley that gave the dip some bite. Just before serving heat the dip briefly (30 seconds or fewer) in a microwave. Garnish with tarragon leaves and invite your guests to spoon the dip onto fresh slices of baguette. I prefer to serve cervelle de canut prior to dinner – very nice with a glass of wine.

Wabi Sabi – An Artful Way of Life

Our friend and neighbour, Debra Kuzbik, is an accomplished photographer; actually much more than accomplished in my opinion. It is no surprise then that Debra was attracted to “Wabi Sabi.” She has very kindly offered to explain Wabi Sabi here, in a guest blog post (while I am going to take the opportunity to insert some of Debra’s photographs – starting with this one). Much of what follows comes directly from Debra.

“The term Wabi Sabi has been called the heart of Japanese culture. Rooted in Zen Buddhism, it arose from separate words that were later combined. Originally, Wabi meant poverty, but poverty by choice, a detachment from wealth – a hermit living in harmony with nature, growing his own food, appreciating the cycle of the seasons.”

What were once ostentatious tea ceremonies in the 15th and 16th centuries, in which aristocrats would flaunt ornate tea vessels, “over time the tea ceremony was made simpler … (with) emphasis placed on relationships among the participants, the warmth of hospitality and conversation …”

“Sabi was first used to describe the muted and subtle beauty of 12th and 13th century poetry. It originally meant loneliness and evolved to mean aloneness in, and appreciation for, nature that is best described as the somber longing or melancholy ache you might feel watching a flock of geese preparing to fly south, or observing the autumn leaves as they become muted and begin to fall.”

“The Seventeenth century revered haiku poet, Matsuo Basho, is credited with combining the two words and infusing the phrase with new meaning. Wabi Sabi evolved to become a sign of humble grace, elegant simplicity and an appreciation and acceptance of the beauty in the transience of life.”

“The busyness of modern Western living often obscures or even eliminates the sense of wonder, curiosity and connection to the world that we are all born with … (as) I watch my grandson examining tiny shells on the beach, studying baby crabs as they scuttle about waving their miniature pincers at him or tracing the pathways carved in the sand by the receding tides … for him Wabi Sabi is a way of life.”

The “American author and artist, Leonard Koren, was one of the first to bring the concept of Wabi Sabi into the Western aesthetic” with this definition, “Wabi Sabi is a beauty of things imperfect, impermanent and incomplete. It is a beauty of things modest and humble. It is a beauty of things unconventional.”

Debra goes on to say, “We see the influence of Wabi Sabi … (in the) shift to organic food, the farm to table movement, conservation, tiny houses, forest-bathing, electric cars … and interest in living a considered life that minimizes impact on the Earth.”

“Wabi Sabi has also had a profound influence on Western art … the Japanese aesthetic of Wabi Sabi … defines beauty through the rustic, the simple, the imperfect … and believes art to be all the more beautiful for being flawed and aged.”

“As a photographer, I have always been drawn to the visual design elements inherent to Wabi Sabi. Organic forms and shapes, asymmetry and interesting textures have always attracted me as subject matter, The colours associated with autumn – rust, pumpkin, mustard, berry, gold and the muted shades of brown as the season progresses – are my palette of choice.”

“Unlike painting, which begins with a blank canvas or paper to which subject matter and visual design elements are added, photography is a subtractive process in which all nonessential elements are eliminated to connect the observer to the observed … I attempt to create images that honour the transient beauty of the moment through simplicity, restraint and clarity.”

“ … Wabi Sabi is not something to be understood intellectually, but rather, when fully realized, it is a way of being that is lived through the heart.”

And what follows are my words, (and I thank Debra for her blog entry – which is so inspiring). I have added more of Debra’s photographs that capture Debra’s art and through her art how she has embraced Wabi Sabi.

And not to forget that winter approaches, at least in other parts of the country.